Where’s the Sun in Sunset?

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Over the July 4th weekend, I stumbled onto a slice of San Francisco that made me think how under-represented the Sunset district has been ever since The City adopted the district election for the Board of Supervisors.

The occasion was the reopening of the Lakeside Hardware and Lumber Company at Taraval and 44th Avenue. Nick Zlatunich started Lakeside in 1947, when the Sunset was mostly sand dunes, and later brought in his younger brother, Tom, as partner. The family has run that business ever since, with Tom’s son George at the helm for the last two decades. Nick, who will celebrate his 92nd birthday later this year, was on hand to greet people at the reopening. In an earlier generation, the late Milton Marks would not have missed this event. But we’re in a different age now.

Post-World War II saw the creation of what we call the Sunset today. As veterans returned to civilian life, the government assisted them with the GI Bill and new, affordable housing. I happen to live in one of those houses, sold in 1947 for $6,000. Except for folks like Bill Gates or Jerry Yang, few investments have grown over 100-fold in one’s lifetime.

For 60 years, the Zlatunich family has met the neighborhood’s needs for general hardware, from lumber to pocket knives, and from paint to potting soil. Lakeside has lived through all the local and national changes. The Civil Rights Movement was barely beginning with the integration of the Armed Forces and Jackie Robinson‘s debut in 1947. It would have been revolutionary then if a woman came in and wanted to build a deck, or for that matter, if an Asian ventured out on Taraval for a gallon of paint.

It wasn’t until 1965 that immigration to this country was opened to Asians and Latinos in large numbers; two generations later, the Sunset District is distinctly Asian. My 94-year-old neighbor who died in January was the second to last surviving “old timer” Anglo on the block. An Asian family just bought his house and promptly converted the garage into living units.

The reopening reminded me of the poor representation in City Hall this district has received. Over the last eight years, three Chinese Americans have represented District 4; the first two – Leland Yee and Fiona Ma – quickly stepped up to bigger seats in Sacramento. The last one was thrown out for not actually living in the district and is now facing fraud and corruption charges. Adding insult to injury, Mayor Newsom promptly appointed a young financial aide, Carmen Chu, who just moved into the district herself. She’s now running for her own term against perennial candidate and local businessman, Ron Dudum.

If a family-owned business can hold out for six turbulent decades, what would it take for this district to have adequate representation down at City Hall?

Vu-Duc Vuong ( vuduc.vuong@gmail.com) is a teacher and writer living in the Bay Area.

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